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"Yrj Kilpinen: Finnish Composer and German Lieder in the 1930s"

James Deaville
Intersections: Canadian Journal of Music/ Intersections: revue canadienne de musique, vol. 25, n 1-2, 2005,
p. 171-186.

Pour citer cet article, utiliser l'information suivante :

DOI: 10.7202/1013310ar
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IN THE 1930s






James Deaville

Three brief citations to begin this investigation: "As composer of Lieder, [he] has
by all means the most productive disposition of this era" (Hapke 1936,1152).2
"Here we have a truly creative talent by the grace of God, whose calling is to say
important things within few words" (Graener 1937, 5).3 "[He is] the greatest
lyricist of the age and a master of song of the highest calibre" (anonymous
German critic from 1934, cited and translated in Korhonen 2003,71). We might
expect that such encomia from the German press of the 1930s were directed at a
native-born Lied composer, who (in light of such favourable comments at that
time) must have been a member of the National Socialist party. But the recipient
was a Finnish musician, who nevertheless came to be regarded as one of the
leading composers of German Lieder during the 1930s. Yrj Kilpinen certainly
exhibited talent and fecundity as a composer of Lieder", but there was another
factor that contributed to his popularity in the Germany of the mid-1930s: he
was a National Socialist sympathizer.4 This historical fact caused some Finnish
music historians discomfort to the extent that Kilpinen tended to be passed over
in silence during the post-war years. When he was mentioned in that literature,
Kilpinen's ideology of the 1930s and early 1940s rarely figured in later assessments of the man and his music.5

1 For their valuable comments on and contributions to this study, I wish to extend my heartfelt
thanks to Tomi Mkel (University of Magdeburg), Helena Tyrvinen (University of Helsinki),
Michael Saffle (Virginia Tech) and the anonymous Finnish reviewer of this article. That reviewer also
made me aware of how Finland's relationship with Nazi Germany remains a difficult and sensitive
issue in the country. Kilpinen's daughter Siipi Saari has unfortunately not made his material accessible
to scholars (even though it has been catalogued in the Finnish National Archives since 1999), which
renders Kilpinen a difficult topic for research. However, since this paper treats his reception in
German-speaking Europe, the question of access to primary sources in Finland is less of a problem.
All translations from German texts are by the author.
2 "Yrj Kilpinen... ist als Liederkomponist uberhaupt die produktivste Natur unserer Epoche."
3 "Hier handelt es sich um ein ernsthaft schpferisches Talent von Gottes Gnaden, dem es gegeben
ist, grofie Dinge in kleinem Rahmen zu sagen."
4 The inaccessibility of his correspondence makes it difficult to determine his personal level of
allegiance to fascism and the National Socialists, for he may well have been an opportunist. A clear
identification of Kilpinen's political sympathies will have to await the opening of the archival holdings.
5 This reluctance to deal with his political past is even evident in such standard Kilpinen literature
as the monographs about him by Tauno Karila and Tarja Taurula. More recently, however, Finnish
scholars Kke Tomi Mkel and Erkki Salmenhaara have attempted to come to grips with the problem
of Kilpinen. See above all Salmenhaara's Uuden musiikin kynnyksell. Suomen musiikin historiay
494-503, for a detailed account of Kilpinen's connections with Germany.



This study explores the historical oddity of a non-German composer

achieving success in the quintessential^ German genre of the Lied during the
Third Reich, and tries to make sense of it. As we shall see, the appropriation
of German poetry and musical aesthetics in Kilpinen's Lieder made him a
showcase for Nordic/Aryan cultural supremacy. As an internationally recognised composer who seemingly embraced the politics of Hitler, he was, for
propaganda purposes, even more valuable to the Nazis.6 However, his association with National Socialism has rendered Kilpinen a difficult commodity
for subsequent generations of Finnish music historians.7

Born on 4 February 1892 in Helsinki, Kilpinen studied with Erik Furuhjelm

at the local conservatory intermittently between 1908 and 1917, while taking
lessons from Richard Heuberger in Vienna (1910-11) and from Paul Juon in
Berlin (1913-14). He acquired a good knowledge of German during these and
other visits or residencies. As is evidenced by his song settings, Kilpinen
developed an interest in poetry by Rilke and Morgenstern and songs by
Schubert and Wolf, among others. If the early 1920s were characterized by
his composition of songs to Nordic texts, from the late 1920s through the end
of the war, Kilpinen dedicated himself almost exclusively to setting Germanlanguage poetry, which has led commentators to identify those years as a
second or German period in his creative production.8
Whilst this was for Kilpinen a time of growing expertise as a composer and of
rising notoriety in his homeland, the 1920s were also a period of increasing
political activity in Finland on the part of nationalist and eventually right-wing
groups. The Academic Karelia Society (Akateeminen Karjala-Seura, AKS) was "a
group of academics, intellectuals and literati who advocated anti-communism ...
authoritarian government, the elimination of non-Finnish influences from Finnish life and culture, the creation... of a Greater Finland extending eastward as far
as the Urals" (Blinkhorn 2000,51) and the aggressive promotion of Lutheranism
(Larsen 1990, 241). Flourishing at the end of the 1920s, Lapuan Hike (Lapua
Movement) was a political movement that adopted more extreme measures to
promote an anti-communist agenda.9 Banished in 1932 after a failed coup
6 In her monograph Der unpolitische Komponist als Politikum: Die Rezeption von Jean Sibelius im
NS-Staat, 77-148, Ruth-Maria Gleifiner makes a strong case for the political and ideological utility
Finland and Finnish culture had for National Socialist Germany.
7 It stands to reason that a work published shortly after the war like Veikko Helasvuo's Sibelius
and the Music of Finland would not refer to issues of complicity with the National Socialists, but
publications of the Finnish Music Information Centre continue this practice (Korhonen, 2003). One
should remember at the same time that the purpose of the Centre is to promote Finnish music, so its
publications may be expected to put that repertory and its composers in a favourable light.
8 See, for example, Salmenhaara 1992,2.
9 An informative document about Lapuan Hike is the brief brochure from 1930 by Lauri Ingman,
entitled Die Lapua-Bewegung in Finnland. This publication was clearly intended for consumption in
Germany, which is interesting insofar as its strongly anti-communist politics predate the coming-topower of the National Socialists in Germany.

25/1-2 (2005)


attempt, Lapuan Hike was directly replaced by the national socialist party, Isanmaallinen kansanliike (Patriotic People's Movement, IKL), which pursued its
activities until 1944, following the forced Armistice with the Soviet Union.
Kilpinen's level of association with these groups remains undocumented, but
even the supposedly apolitical Sibelius was an early enthusiast for Lapuan Hike
(Glei6ner2002,32-33). 10
By 1923, Kilpinen had established himself as one of Finland's leading composers, albeit in one genre: song. In all, he would compose over 750 songs in
Finnish, Swedish and German in a series of cycles and collections, thereby giving
rise to the epithet of "the Finnish Schubert." The earliest songs are in Finnish,
but as he became politically active, German poetry came to dominate his text
settings of the late 1920s and the 1930s. He favoured composing music to the
poems of Christian Morgenstern, which yielded over 75 Lieder. The German and
Finnish songs attracted attention in Germany above all through the activities of
the well-known singer Gerhard Husch, who frequently performed in Cologne
and Berlin. One of the high points of the 1930s for Kilpinen was the highly
acclaimed performance of his Morgenstern cycle Lieder um den Tod at the 1935
Tonkunstlerfest in Hamburg, which caUed forth "endless applause," according
to a review in the Zeitschrift fur Musik (Pfohl 1935, 753). His music remained in
the repertory of German concert life even in the early 1940s, albeit not as strongly
represented as that of his Finnish compatriot Sibelius.11
As Tomi Mkel notes in his Kilpinen entry for the revised MGG, the composer not only promoted his music in Nazi Germany but also "actively contributed to the cultural relations between the Third Reich and Finland" (Mkel
2003, 100).12 This included his involvement in the "Stndiger Rat fur internationale Zusammenarbeit der Komponisten," the organisation established in 1934
to foster ties with like-minded composers outside of Germany, and his participation as one of only two foreign jurors (the other was Francesco Malipiero) on
the committee of over ten party stalwarts who adjudicated the Olympic composition competition in 1936. His music was featured at two important international festivals of the Third Reich: the aforementioned 1935 Tonkunstlerfest of
the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein which, with the collaboration of the
Stndiger Rat, became a celebration of music from allied and associated countries,13 and the Internationales Zeitgenssisches Musikfest in Baden-Baden that
extended from 1936 to 1939.14 One further sign of his collaboration, but on
10 According to Gleifiner, Sibelius never joined the Isnmaallinen kansanliike.
11 Although Kilpinen is represented with only one work in Wilhelm Altmann's "Statistischer
Oberblick uber die im Winter 1941/42 stattfindenden Reihenkonzerten" (Altmann 1942, 54-61 and
102-10) compared with 23 works by Sibelius, we should remember that Kilpinen wrote no music for
orchestral performance. In terms of German recordings, Kilpinen actually surpassed Sibelius in the
Electrola catalogue for 1938/39, with 24 individual recordings to only 16 for Sibelius (Gleifiner 2002,
12 "Kilpinen trug aktiv zu den kulturellen Beziehungen zwischen dem NS-Reich und Finnland bei."
13 On the program were works by such composers as Zoltan Kodaly, Franz Schmidt, Franco Alfano,
and Jean Sibelius.
14 See Joan Evans, "'International with National Emphasis': The Internationales Zeitgenssisches
Musikfest in Baden-Baden, 1936-39." Needless to say, the ideologues of the Third Reich had great use



Finnish soil, was Kilpinen's role as head of music for the 1940 Olympics in
Helsinki, which however had to be cancelled because of the war (Stege 1939,922).
Kilpinen also nurtured the Finnish-German relationship by publicly promoting Sibelius in the Third Reich by, for example, supporting his compatriot's role
as Vice President of the Stndiger Rat (Mkel 2003, 100), and by leading the
move to establish a Sibelius Society in Germany.15 Despite this official upholding
of Sibelius as a fellow Nordic master composer, there are other indications that
the relationship was strained on a personal level. On one occasion, for example,
Kilpinen is said to have almost come to blows with famous Finnish mathematician and amateur musician Rolf Nevanlinna over the merits of Sibelius, which
Kilpinen had vehemently disputed.16 One source of this hostility was the fact that
Kilpinen occupied second place to Sibelius among Finnish composers, even in
the hierarchies from Nazi music literature of the Third Reich.17
Kilpinen's own political statements are hard to come by,firstof all because of
the unavailability of his letters in published editions and secondly as a result of
the absence of other documents by and about him.18 Nevertheless, in an interview
with the German newspaper Vlkischer Beobachterfrom1938, he is quoted as
speaking favourably about the German intervention in the Sudeten crisis and
about the close collaboration between the Finnish-German Association and the
Foreign Ministry of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Rudolf 1938,
7). His sympathies towards fascism are also evident in the words of party member
Paul Graener, who writes about a personal encounter with Kilpinen: "That which
was most gratifying was his enthusiasm for the awakening of our people and for
our Fuhrer. This person, who in every word, in every glance revealed the integrity
of his being, experienced our revolutionary movement as if he were one of us,
indeed, felt it more strongly than many of us..." (Graener 1937,5). Furthermore,
there exist a typescript copy of Kilpinen's effusive "Dankesrede beim Dresdner
Musikfest des Stndigen Rates 1937"19 and a published celebratory message by
the committed Nazi music historian Herbert Gerigk in honour of the Finnish
composer'sfiftiethbirthday in 1942 (Gerigk 1942,182). The evidence certainly
points to Kilpinen as being more than an opportunistic sympathiser, even though
the incontrovertible hard evidence about the true nature of his personal conviction as national socialist is not yet available.
for such non-German "Aryan" composers as Kilpinen, who allowed their names to be associated with
international National Socialist events; see also Fred K. Prieberg (1982, 274).
15 With Finnish embassy functionary Hans R. Martola, Kilpinen undertook these discussions with
the Nordische Gesellschaft during the winter of 1941-42. See the Bundesarchiv (Berlin), NS 15 and
NS 18 (Amt Rosenberg und Reichspropagandaleiter der NSDAP) for documentation.
16 Incident recorded by Olli Lehto in Korkeat Maailmat. RolfNevanlinnan elm (Helsinki: Otava,
2001) and cited by Manfred Stern in a review: "Olli Lehto: Erhabene Welten. Das Leben RolfNevanlinnas" in: Electronic Mathematics Library (2003), p. 11. html
(accessed May 6, 2005).
17 See, for example, the comments of Fritz Stege in his "Sibelius und die nordische Tonwelt. Zum
70. Geburtstag des finnischen Meisters>> (1936, 44-50), or the survey of Walter Hapke in "Musik im
Rundfunk. Reichssender Hamburg" (1936,1152).
18 Again, the family's reluctance to make these materials accessible is a major reason for these
19 Bundesarchiv (Berlin), 2300, 0151/07 (previously Berlin Document Center).


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UM DEN TOD [ S O N G S O F D E A T H ] O P . 62

Still, Kilpinen was not a German, and yet he was setting poetic words to music
in that most quintessential^ German genre of Lied. Indeed, for Nazi ideologues, the Lied was a bearer of German identity: "For us Germans, the Lied
has always been a sung confession of the soul and a mirror of the life of the
people" (Schulz, 1934).20 In light of this, how could the National Socialist
music aestheticians justify the German Lieder of the Finn? A careful reading
of the German musical press on Kilpinen, above all a feature article about him
in the Zeitschrift fur Musik of September, 1939, yields insight into how this
non-German could master the Lied.21 In that article, Kilpinen enthusiast Fritz
Stege argues primarily for the composer's Nordic spirit, whichas Stege
foregrounds through an introductory epigram by the notorious racial "scientist" Hans F. K. Guntherimplies a "Weltanschauung for which the elevation
[Steigerung] of the human is a command of God" (Stege 1939, 922).22 Stege
sees the Nordic element revealed not in the superficiality of tone painting but
rather to the extent that the landscape is assimilated within the artist. Above
all, Stege positions the Nordic artist vis--vis the endlessness of the landscape:
"This 'Nordic yearning' is a natural sensation for all of those who because of
spiritual oppression strive [to go out] into the endless landscape" (Stege 1939,
Once Stege has established the spiritual essence and unity of the Nordic
countries in one Aryan Volk, he can proceed to establish the special nature of
the integral musical relationships between Germany and Finland, 24 which
manifested itself in the German activities of composers like Sibelius, Selim
Palmgren, Toivo Kuula and Kilpinen. The Finnish composer is "the prophet
of his surroundings, which encompass him daily, even hourly, in unadulterated, pure form. He himself is the voice of his country, the echo of the soul
of the people. In him, centuries of history come alive, become word and tone"
(Stege, 1939, 922). 25 Given his "Nordic soul," his rootedness in the history,
landscape and folk music of his country, Kilpinen possessed all of the qualities

20 "Zu alien Zeiten ist uns Deutschen das Lied ein gesungenes Bekenntnis der Seele und ein Spiegel
des Volkslebens gewesen" (Schulz, 1934; cited in Frommann 1999, 20).
21 Among the many German sources of the period about the Lied, Ernst Biicken's Das deutsche Lied:
Problme und Gestaltem provides possibly the most comprehensive overview of the genre, including
as well a survey of Lied production of the time.
22 "Der nordische Gedanke ist Ausdruck einer Weltanschauung, welcher die Steigerung des Menschen ein gttliches Gebot ist." Stege also promoted the music of Sibelius, as is most evident in his
"Sibelius und die nordische Tonwelt..."
23 "Die 'nordische Sehnsuchf ist ein naturliches Empfinden all derer, die aus seelischer Bedrngnis
heraus in die Weite streben ..."
24 For a more detailed discussion of Third Reich musical ideologies and aesthetics, see Gleifiner
25 "Er wird zum unmittelbaren Kunder seiner Umwelt, die ihn in unverflschter, reiner Form
tglich, stundlich umgibt. Er selbst ist die Stimme seines Landes, das Echo der Volksseele, in ihm
werden Jahrhunderte der Geschichte lebendig, wandeln sich zu Wort und Ton."



to satisfy Nazi aestheticians, despite the hazy and inconsistent details of their
aesthetic ideology.26
In the most circumspect analysis of Kilpinen's work from Nazi Germany,
Stege regards the composer's 1926 Finnish songs, Tunturilauluja (Songs of the
Fells, Opp. 52-54) as drawing upon generally Nordic and specifically Finnish
musical characteristics, which include the melodic use of consecutive fourths
and whole tones, pentatonicism, narrow melodic range, the preference for
falling lines, and a general economy of musical materials (Stege 1939,
925-29). The analyst hereby suggests an "ethnic" basis for the music, referring
to the harmonic instability as indicative of the Nordic "sense of endlessness"
(Unendlichkeitsgefuhl). Of course, the analyst makes a strong case for the
composer's sensitivity to the nuances of the Finnish language.
This may be fine and well for songs in Kilpinen's native tongue, but what
about his settings of German poetry? For Stege and other commentators this
was no special problem, since the Nordic peoples (including Germans) are
one Volk (even though the Finns are not Indo-Europeans). Kilpinen's choice
to set German poetry reflects his inner allegiance with "das Vaterland"
especially through his preference for the valued Christian Morgenstern,
whose work enjoyed a certain popularity during the Third Reich.27 Turning
from the Finnish settings of his earlier career stage to the German poetry of
his maturity, Kilpinen "succeeded with [this] artistic metamorphosis by
exchanging the endlessness of the landscape with [its] spiritual breadth. As
the nature of [Kilpinen's] homeland knows no boundaries and extends into
the cosmos, Morgenstern broadens the limits of the soul and opens the
mystic's gaze for the wonders of the eternal" (Stege 1939,924).28 This broad,
quasi-spiritual justification for Kilpinen's setting of German Lieder seemed
to obviate the need for close, detailed analysis of these works, which none of
the German, Nazi-era commentators on Kilpinen provide. Graener assesses
the Finn's German Lieder with the following, typical words: "The gifted
Nordic musician Kilpinen always finds the right and true tones for these
German words. As a result, and because of their great, austere beauty, these
Lieder belong to us, and we should make room for them in our hearts"
(Graener 1937, 5-6).29 Still, is there any specific justification in the music for
26 This is especially apparent upon close examination of any composer's changing fate during the
Third Reich, represented for example by Joan Evans's exhaustive study "Stravinsky's Music in Hitler's
Germany" (2003, 525-94).
27 In his extended Kilpinen study of 1939, Stege wrote at length about Morgenstern's importance
for Kilpinen, as a bridge between German and Nordic sensibilities (924). One sign of the poet's
continuing place within the literary pantheon of Nazi Germany was the 1944 reprint of Morgenstern's
Galgenlieder by Insel Verlag in Leipzig.
28 "Dem Tondichter Kilpinen gelingt die kunstlerische Metamorphose in der Vertauschung der
landschaftlichen Unendlichkeit mit der seelischen Weite. Wie die Natur seiner Heimat keine Grenzen
kennt und in das All hineinwachst, so erweitert Morgenstern die Schranken der Seele und ffhet den
Blick des Mystikers fur die Wunder des Jenseits ..."
29 "... Der geistvolle nordische Musiker Kilpinen findet immer die richtigen und echten Tone fur
diese deutschen Worte. Darum und wegen ihrer grofien herben Schnheit gehren diese Lieder zu

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the epithets Kilpinen earned in Germany, that of the Finnish Schubert or

Wolf? To answer that, we will have to take a closer look at the German songs.
Since the Morgenstern cycle Lieder um den Tod ("Songs of Death") had the
largest circulation and greatest renown in the Germany of the 1930s, we will
examine those Lieder', which one recent commentator has designated as "the
greatest of [Kilpinen's] printed Morgenstern songs" (Buckbee 1988, 26).
The six songs, as presented in the Table 1 below, form a cycle, through
Kilpinen's constructed poetic narrative. He assembled the poems himself from
several of Morgenstern's collections, so the texts themselves did not originally
have cyclical connections. A reading of the selected poetry reveals how the
composer was true to his chosen title: each deals with some aspect of death. A
closer analysis uncovers a certain progression, from the bleak pessimism of
"Voglein Schwermut" (#1)by far the most frequently set of the six poems
(Hans G. Wilhelm Petersen, Heinz Tiessen, Felix Weingartner, Alexander von
Zemlinsky, among others)to the hope in death of "Unverlierbare Gewhr"
(#6). Between those antipodes, the poems set different moods: "Der Tod und der
einsame Trinker" (#3), for example, introduces an element of humour (or rather
irony), while "Winternacht" (#4) is sentimental in its address to the beloved
departed. Stege argues that these (and other) Morgenstern poems reflect his
"depth of feeling" and "spiritual breadth," which Kilpinen musically translates
into the "endlessness of landscape" (Stege 1939,924).
Table 1.
Yrj Kilpinen, Lieder um den Tod, Op. 62, Christian Morgenstern, poetry
Kilpinen: Lieder um den Tod

Morgenstern sources

No. 1 "Vglein Schwermut"

No. 2 "Auf einem verfallenen Kirchhof '
No. 3 "Der Tod und der einsame
Trinker: Eine Mitternachtszene"
No. 4 "Winternacht"
No. 5 "Der Semann"
No. 6 "Unverlierbare Gewhr"

Aufvielen We gen (1897)

Auf vielen Wegen ( 1897)
Aufvielen Wegen (1897)
Ich und die Welt (1898)
individual publication
individual publication

However, the music does not reinforce the creation of a new cyclical unity.
The composer's strong crafting of individual identities for each song weakens
any sense of shared themes or musical progress, except for the last song
"Unverlierbare Gewhr," which in its gentle tone and tender last measures
brings the set to a hopeful close. However, contrary to an assessment in the
Finnish Music Quarterly by G.L. Buckbee, who finds that song's unbroken

uns, und wollen sie an unser Herz nehmen."



opening series of 19 2-3 suspensions in the piano "comforting in their

hymn-like serenity" (Buckbee 1988, 29), one could hear them as overdone,
like a caricature, or on the other hand, like a statement of how an iron will
and firm hand can make these notes fulfil their destiny (Example 1). Is this
the sought-after articulation of the Nordic Unendlichkeitsgefuhl in music?
A similarly elemental recurring accompaniment pattern unifies the first

Example 1. Yrj Kilpinen, ILieder um den Tod/, Op. 62, No. 6: "Unverlierbare Gewahr," bars
1-5. Boosey & Hawkes/Bote & Bock, Berlin. Reprint with kind permission.

song for 44 of its 57 bars (Example 2). In and of itself, the pattern's tonal
ambiguity creates interest and tension: the missing third and the raised fourth
degree weaken the sense of G Minor, which the voice establishes all too clearly
upon its entry. However, the 32 unchanging statements of that four-note
right-hand pattern, without significant contrast, may well strike the listener
as unnecessarily obvious (and tedious) while putting to music "the mystic's
gaze for the wonders of the eternal" (Stege 1939, 924).

25/1-2 (2005)

Example 2. Yrj Kilpinen, ILieder urn den Tod/y Op. 62, No. 1: "Voglein Schwermut,"
bars 1-12. Boosey 8c Hawkes/Bote 8c Bock, Berlin. Reprint with kind permission.




The most celebrated of Kilpinen's Lieder um den Tod is No. 3, "Der Tod und
der einsame Trinker: Eine Mittemachtsszene." Buckbee goes so far as to call it
"one of the world's great Lied compositionsso true, so right, so simple"
(Buckbee 1988,26) (Example 3). In a more interesting musical setting than the
prior two examples, we encounter here the contradiction within Kilpinen's work.
Is this an effective dramatic song that makes its point through simple repetition
of elemental musical ideas and gestures (regardless of how the Nazi ideologues
may have appropriated them as representative of the Aryan spirit), or does it
become (or is it even intended to be) a parody through the infernal repetition
and the increasing frustration of the devil? The Lied has an impact, but the
ambiguity of the intention supports what later commentators like Salmenhaara
would identify as the contestability of Kilpinen's output (Salmenhaara 2001,593).

Der Tod und der einsame TrinkeF~~

Eine Miitenmcbtszene

Example 3. Yrj Kilpinen, /Lieder um den Tod/, Op. 62, No. 3: "Der Tod und der einsame
Trinker.* Boosey & Hawkes/Bote 8c Bock, Berlin. Reprint with kind permission.

25/1-2 (2005)


Example 3 (cont'd)

In general, the composer's economy of means calls to mind the miniatures

of Robert Franz rather than the richly varied and complex songs of Schubert
and Wolf, with notable exceptions, of course. In this regard, he also remained
untouched by the influence of Sibelius's important song oeuvre. Kilpinen
seems concerned with using one powerful and obvious musical gesture
throughout a song, this use of ostinato having been drawn from the text. In
some cases, like "Der Tod und der einsame Trinker," this involves obvious
word painting, whereas in "Voglein Schwermut," we find the composer



Example 3 {cont'd)

translating the general mood of the poem into music. In what pertains to the
elemental effect of these songs, one is compelled to think of the Nazi aestheticians' emphasis on the Nordic musical invocation of the austere landscape.

Kilpinen's apparent investment in the politics of National Socialism constituted a problem for Finnish music historians immediately after the war. They
had difficulty enough convincing the world that Sibelius did not have per-

25/1-2 (2005)


sonal ties to the National Socialists in Germany. Kilpinen himself took steps
to make it easier for his Finnish apologists in the post-war period: writing in
1996, Salmenhaara observed how Kilpinen composed a vocal cycle called
Katri Vala-sarja in 1946 to the poems of a well-known Finnish leftist radical
poet in order to polish his political reputation (Salmenhaara 1996, 500).
Slightly later, Makela phrases it this way: "in order to substantiate his efforts
at an ideological re-orientation, Kilpinen set in 1946 Katri Vala's radically
expressionistic texts and 64 Lieder from Lnnrot's Kanteletar" (Makela 2003,
101).30 xhi s rather sudden ideological about-face certainly strengthens the
argument for Kilpinen's opportunism, although it does not in itself invalidate
any possible national socialist aspirations on the composer's part.
Still, his past would pursue Kilpinen for the rest of his life and would make
any assessment of his position in Finnish musical life problematic. Kilpinen
has played such a minor role in post-war Finnish musical life and scholarship
that one author of the 1990s wrote of "re-discovering" him (Borg 1992, 14).
Certainly the contested quality of his music may have been one reason for the
general silence, yet after the Kilpinen centenary in 1992, two noted Finnish
scholars argued for a re-appraisal of the composer (Salmenhaara 1992, 1-2;
Tarasti 1992, 48-54). Salmenhaara followed this call with his own contributions to the understanding of Kilpinen,31 though these assessments (like
others to date) could not draw upon archival materials in the Finnish National
Archive. In the absence of definitive proof of Kilpinen's personal involvement
in National Socialism, Finnish commentators have had to walk a fine line.
Korhonen merely observes "it was not altogether advantageous for his [Kilpinen's] later reputation that he was extremely popular in Nazi Germany ...
We should note, though, that he was also highly regarded in Britain, where
the Kilpinen Society was founded in 1935" (Korhonen 2003, 71). This reference to the British Kilpinen Society (founded in 1935 by Walter Legge)
highlights an interesting aspect of Kilpinen reception: Legge himself exhibited
Nazi sympathies. After all, he promoted Furtwngler in Britain and "discovered" Nazi party member Herbert von Karajan, and after the war married
former party member Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.32 As a result, references to the
British Kilpinen Society should also be suspect, at least as a means to deny
possible associations with National Socialism on the composer's part (Makela
2003, 100).33 The Yrj Kilpinen Society of North America, Ltd. (a populist
30 "Urn sein Bemhen urn weltanschauliche Umorientierung zu belegen, vertonte er 1946 Katri
Valas radikal expressionistische Texte und 64 Lieder zu Lonnrots Kanteletar."
31 For example, the aforementioned article in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
and extended discussion in Uuden musiikin kynnyksellii.
32 Despite his significance for the history of recording, Legge has not yet served as the subject for a
scholarly monograph. Schwatzkopf has published a memoir of him ( 1982) and Alan Sanders has edited
his letters and writings (1988), neither of which provide significant insights into his personal associations with the Nazis.
33 Like Korhonen, Mkel refers to the founding of the British Kilpinen Society in 1935 as a
counter-balance to his popularity in Nazi Germany. Salmenhaara (1996, 499-500) recounts the



society founded in 1999 "to honour and cherish the artistic memory of the
great Finnish composer") does not have the same political background, yet it
also fails to recognise any politically problematic aspects of his past, suggesting that he was merely a typical composer who kept aloof from politics (Yrj
Kilpinen Society 2005).
Much work remains to be undertaken on Kilpinen and his music. Of
course, definitive conclusions about the interaction of his biography, aesthetics and politics will have to await the release of his letters, yet that is no reason
for us not to engage with his music and its meanings. As is evident from this
investigation, political allegiances can lead to unexpected aesthetic results, to
the extent that the Finn Kilpinen was accepted in National Socialist Germany
as a master of the Lied. The revelation and explanation of this irony may
represent a small step towards the understanding of composer and context,
yet it also moves us ahead in the needed discussion of how we can speak about
music in a way that engages sounds and politics, text and context, in a fruitful
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The Lieder of Finnish composer Yrj Kilpinen (1892-1959) provide an interesting opportunity to study the interaction of national identity and musical
aesthetics in National Socialist Germany. His German-language songs, above
all to texts by Christian Morgenstern, enjoyed considerable success in Germany of the 1930s. Kilpinen's own political sympathies made him a model
for Nazi ideologists, even as a non-German composing in the quintessentially
German musical genre of the Lied. Reviews of his Lieder in the German-language press expound on the "Nordic" qualities of the work of this "Aryan"
composer. Closer examination of the Lieder urn den Tod reveals a stark, at
times heavy-handed compositional technique, which well suited the political
ideology of the Third Reich.
Les lieder du compositeur finnois Yrj Kilpinen (1892-1959) offrent une
intressante occasion d'tudier l'interaction entre l'identit nationale et les
esthtiques musicales prsentes dans l'Allemagne nationale-socialiste. Ses
chants en allemand, surtout ceux composs sur les textes de Christian Morgenstern, ont connu une grande popularit dans l'Allemagne des annes 1930.
Ses affinits politiques ont transform Kilpinen en modle des idologues
nazis, ce malgr le fait qu'il n'tait pas Allemand et composait dans le genre
allemand par quintessence qu'est le lied. Les critiques de ses lieder parues dans
la presse allemande expliquaient dans le dtail les qualits nordiques de
l'uvre de ce compositeur aryen . Une tude plus approfondie des Lieder
um den Tod rvle une technique compositionnelle rigide, parfois mme
maladroite, qui s'adaptait bien l'idologie politique du Troisime Reich.